If you’re struggling with your finances and wondering how you’ll ever be able to give your family a great Christmas, we have good news. There are things you can do to ensure that you will have a great Christmas and without piling on a lot of debt.
Five apps that can help
For one thing, you shouldn’t pay full price for anything on your holiday shopping list. Black Friday is coming but retailers are already beginning to offer heavy discounts. You can find money-saving apps that provide quick results, are easy-to-use and don’t carry a huge price tag. For that matter, many of them are free. This means there is no reason to spend $5, $10 or $20 on one of these apps.
The first of our five money-saving apps is RedLaser. The way it works is simple. All you do is scan the barcode on the item you’re thinking of buying and the app will automatically display a list of what other retailers are selling it for – and this includes both online and in-stores. While there are a number of apps available that permit you to scan an item’s barcode, RedLaser has been around a lot longer than most of these other apps and is still highly rated.
This app makes it easy for you to keep up with all available discount codes. It will show you in-store coupons on your phone that will provide you with instant savings at checkout.
Wouldn’t you like to know when the gifts you need to buy go on sale? Hukkster is a free add-on to your Internet browser that will track those products online and then let you know when they go on sale. This app will signal you as to price drops and coupon availability so that you can get the items you need at the cheapest prices. Also, if something goes on sale shortly after you buy it, you can use the app to ask for a price adjustment.
Get nearly 50 days of free credit
If you use credit cards to pay for those holiday gifts, it’s important to know your statement’s closing date. The reason for this is because if you make a purchase one day after your statement closing date, you can get nearly 50 days of credit free. Of course, it’s important that you pay your credit card bills when they are due so that you’re not carrying balances forward. When you carry balances forward, this means you may be subject to high interest charges, which can be a real downer when January’s bills roll around.
Make some of your gifts
The old proverb that “it’s the thought that counts” is absolutely true. Homemade gifts are always a bigger hit than something you just bought at the nearest discount warehouse. These can include baked goods, scarves, mittens, hats and one of our personal favorites –photo albums. And creating a photo album from your digital photos is a relatively simple task.
First, if you have a photo-managing program such as iPhoto, Picasa or Lightroom, you can use it to find and sort photos for your album. If you don’t have built in tools for creating your book such as iPhoto, the next step is to export the photos that you want to use in your book. You can do this easily by creating a new album or a set in your photo app and then exporting your photos to a folder on your desktop.
Next, you’ll need to choose a service that creates printed books and photo albums for consumers. Four of the most popular are SnapFish, MyPublisher, Shutterfly and Apple’s photo book service.
Alternately, if you’re on a Mac, and have iPhoto 11, there are templates and book options available for creating your photo album. Windows 7 includes Live Photo Gallery that permits small photo edits as well as the ability to apply effects and publish photos to third-party networks such as Flickr or Facebook. And Microsoft released a free plug-in for Live Photo Gallery this past September that makes it simple to create photo books. Once you download it, you can begin creating your book on your PC by selecting the photos you want to include and the templates you want to use. When you finish this, the app will upload your photos in full resolution to Inkubook where you can then customize your book’s appearance and the captions you want to include. Trust us. You can’t create a much better or welcomer gift than personalized photo albums and you can create them for pennies.
One of the best ways to save money on holiday gifts is by buying used. Now, before you say, “no way am I going to give used gifts,” think about this for a minute. Thrift and antique stores are just full of things that make interesting and unusual gifts. Do you have friends that love birds? You can often find great birdhouses and birdfeeders at antique stores and malls. Do you have friends or family members that collect things such as plates, baseball cards, antiques, miniature figures or record albums? You should be able to find these at either antique or thrift stores. How about vintage jewelry? Maybe there’s a woman on your Christmas list that would just love a vintage brooch, necklace or bracelet. If you can’t find one where you live, the website www.etsy.com has hundreds of these items and at reasonable prices.
It’s easy to spend $100 or even more hosting a holiday meal. Just one of those baked and spiral cut hams can set you back anywhere from $58.95 to $70.95 and then there’s all the trimmings. You can save money by spreading out those holiday meals by asking family members to contribute dishes instead of you having to do the entire meal. This also makes meal preparation much simpler and easier by balancing out the workload. There are also ways to keep your holiday meals safe as disclosed in this short video.
Do a secret Santa
If you have a large number of family members to buy for you might suggest that instead of everyone exchanging gifts you do a secret Santa. Write down everyone’s name on slips of paper and put them in a bag or hat. Each person then draws a name and buys a gift for just that person. This will not only save you money, it will eliminate the stress of having to buy gifts for a number of people and assures that everyone will receive one very nice gift. Alternately, you could set a limit such as $15 per gift. If you keep the dollar amount low, it can stimulate people into becoming more creative with the money that they do spend – by taking advantage of sales or putting a lot of thought into how they can make the most of their assigned budget. This will, of course, reduce the number of expensive gifts exchanged but will take a lot of the pressure off holiday gifting.
Give only to your kids
If you’re really strapped financially you and your spouse or partner could agree to give gifts only to your kids. We actually had to do this one Christmas when our children were young. What we learned is that it was really more fun to watch them open their gifts into open gifts from each other. There is just no substitute for the expression on a child’s face when he or she opens their gifts.
Make a holiday budget
While we saved this for last it may actually be the most important thing you can do to have a great Christmas – even when you’re struggling financially. This starts by determining the total amount of money you can actually afford to spend on your holiday gifts. Use a spreadsheet to create a list of your holiday expenses including gifts, holiday foods, decorations etc. This should be four columns – one for your categories, one for the amount you’ve budgeted for each, one titled “Actual Spending” and one labeled “Amount Over or Amount Under.”
Next, begin tracking your spending by each category in the “Actual Spending” column. You will use the “Amount Over or Amount Under” column to see how you’re doing versus what you’ve budgeted. If you find you’re over in some categories, you may be able to make up for it by scaling back in some other category.
How much you spend in each category – whether you’re over or under – isn’t as important as making sure you stick to the total amount you budgeted for your holiday spending. Do this and you will have a great Christmas – and without the fear of what January will bring in credit card bills.